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What they don't teach you in Spanish classes

Thanks to Spanish classes and teachers we do have some Spanish, but when it comes to living here there is a lot of language we don't have which suddenly becomes very important to have.

Let's start by saying we're not very good at Spanish, having very little but the basics when we arrived - but we got by and we coped, we've got Spanish friends and mumble through. Our Spanish is improving. We can chat (badly) after 18 months here. We read the local newspapers etc, I've taken a Spanish course and will continue to try get by. But, nobody teaches you the real Spanish you need, and in particular telephone Spanish.

For instance on getting a telephone with the Telefonica answering service you then have the challenge of navigating through their spoken menus to set up the system and retrieve the messages. Contestador (answering service), Tienes dos mensajes (you have two messages) and I think I know which button is delete message (Borrar). Setting the 'outgoing message' - nope, didn't work that one out for about 9 months, so callers still thought it was a spanish number (which means my parents never knew if they'd called a wrong number or not).

Secondly, when we got the telephone line, almost instantly we got telemarketing calls. I can't remember the words but the messages were about supplying internet connections, getting mobile telephones, do you have a gas supplier. Most telemarketers hang up, some politely with an adios, some just put the phone down on you.

And whilst on the subject of telephone calls, there are the wrong numbers. Is Jordi there? No. Can I leave him a message? Can you tell him XYZ called. No, I don't know Jordi. He doesn't live here. Is this... You get the idea.

And sometimes we have to make outbound calls. Customer services for the ADSL line - the modem isn't connecting. The air conditioning is broken and it's blowing a fuse in the electricity. There's a water leak from the inlet pipe to the building that apparantly is connected to our flat. Lots of preparation. Summon up courage. Dial. Hello... Then they ask a question - which lights are lit up on the modem, have you unplugged all other electrical items, what water inlet pipe? No we didn't find the words in the Teach yourself Spanish book. In fact quite often we didn't find the words in our basic English-Spanish dictionary (The orange Collins is all very well for learning, but at the sharp end of a pointed question from a Spanish air conditioning engineer talking about the electricity in the flat, words are nowhere to be found).

And we've recently had to try and have an argument about an electricity bill where we received an annual bill, rather than the quarterly bills we thought we'd been paying.

We've had to muddle through it and have managed by and large. People are accommodating, they speak slower and more loudly for us. We understand more than we think and we probably misunderstand more than we think too. Your Spanish will improve, but you do need some language. It's impossible to rely on English (thankfully).


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